The 40-year-old ban on U.S. crude oil exports, a nationalistic response to the Carter-era Arab oil embargo, could be out the door by Christmas if some members of Congress have their way.
Rep. Joe Barton, R-Ennis, and a bipartisan group of lawmakers that includes Rep. Marc Veasey, D-Fort Worth, say they’ll attack the ban with repeal legislation after Congress returns from its summer recess on Sept. 8.
Repeal would help Texas oil producers who are suffering from record price declines, Barton and others told The Texas Tribune.
It probably would, but that’s not a good reason to change U.S. energy policy. Important as oil is to the Texas economy, linking policy change to the fortunes of producers is shaky ground.
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Why wasn’t the export ban repealed a few years back or any time during the last 40 years when oil companies were making eye-popping profits?
Barton has a frank answer, and a good one: Nobody was paying attention.
“I wish I’d repealed it back in 2005 because it would have sailed through [Congress],” Barton told the Tribune.
The question isn’t really why repeal the ban now, but whether it makes economic sense in the first place. On that point, there is argument.
Worldwide oil supplies have shot up — and prices have sunk — on a boom in U.S. production and a decision by Saudi suppliers and others to maintain their market share by keeping production high.
Some experts say the ban on U.S. exports depresses domestic prices below that on international markets, currently about $5 per barrel lower.
One industry representative, economist James LeBas of the Texas Oil and Gas Association, says the difference could be as much as $10 a barrel at times, which he calls “money we’re just throwing away.”
The arguments against allowing crude oil exports boil down to what it would mean for the price of gasoline at U.S. pumps and the price of heating oil in the Northeast.
With energy independence a longtime U.S. goal, those against the export ban repeal say, we should be using our own oil and keeping domestic prices down as much as possible.
In the end, the tough schedule faced by Congress this fall could push prospects for repeal beyond reach. A new appropriations bill, a much-needed highway bill, new pressures on the debt ceiling, the Iran nuclear deal, abortion issues all could — and probably should — take priority.